Football: East Islip wins battle at the line of scrimmage, then the game

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead cornerback Jeff Pittman tries to break up the pass play in front of East Islip receiver Hugens Tranquille.


The stat line alone hardly jumps off the page: 99 rushing yards on 31 carries for an average of 3.2 yards per carry.

East Islip senior halfback Andre Deegan, at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, may not be among the flashiest of runners on Long Island. A methodical grinder, Deegan never broke a run for double-digit yards against Riverhead Saturday afternoon at East Islip High School.

Slowly but surely, Deegan helped wear down the Blue Waves’ defense, softening the pass coverage to allow East Islip to strike through the air.

And when it was over, Deegan had a pair of touchdowns, both on 1-yard runs, to propel the Redmen past Riverhead 24-14 in a game the Blue Waves never led.

“They controlled the clock,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “They controlled the game and we weren’t able to answer.”

East Islip remains unbeaten at 5-0 as does West Islip, which knocked off Copiague Saturday. The loss, dropping Riverhead to 3-2, all but eliminates the Blue Waves’ chances of finishing the regular season atop Division II.

With another tough game looming next weekend against Newfield, the focus now for Riverhead is trying to secure a playoff spot and possibly a top-four seed for a home game in the first round.

East Islip and West Islip do not play each other, so both could run the table and finish the regular season undefeated.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead linebackers Ryan Harkin (57) and Nick Ross try to bring down the East Islip runner.

The Redmen controlled the line of scrimmage against Riverhead, allowing quarterback Casey Nolan plenty of time to sit in the pocket and find receivers. He got off to a rough start by misfiring on his first four passes. But he connected on nine of his next 15, including a 49-yard touchdown pass to Mike Lee that gave East Islip the first score of the game in the second quarter.

For Riverhead, the running game never got on track as the Redmen were able to bottle up halfback Jeremiah Cheatom. He had three big runs for 20+ plus yards, including a 24-yard touchdown run that made it 21-14 early in the fourth quarter. The three big runs accounted for the majority of Cheatom’s 112 rushing yards.

“I thought we were going to be able to move the ball a little bit better,” Shay said. “I don’t know that Jeremiah read the zone very well at times.”

Shay said the Redmen didn’t do anything defensively that they hadn’t seen on film.

“They were physical up front,” he said. “They did a nice job of bend but not break.”

After Cheatom’s touchdown cut East Islip’s lead to seven, the Riverhead defense forced East Islip to punt on its next possession after picking up one first down.

The Blue Waves got the ball back at their own 20 with 9:02 left, needing to drive the length of the field, something they hadn’t done all game. Both of Riverhead’s touchdowns came on a short field.

The Blue Waves picked up a pair of first downs to get near midfield, but Paul Dondero halted any momentum by picking off a pass from quarterback Ryan Bitzer, one of four interceptions on the day (the first came on a long pass at the end of the first half that wasn’t returned).

“The linebackers were really bailing out to take away some of the routes,” Shay said. “He needs to be a little more patient.”

Junior Jaron Greenidge led the Blue Waves with six catches for 64 yards. He caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bitzer on the Blue Waves’ first drive of the third quarter to make it a 14-7 game.

Bitzer’s top target this season, Quinn Funn, was never able to break free for big plays. He did finish with four catches for 61 yards.

“Obviously they were keying on him,” Shay said. “They were bracketing coverage on him.”

Shay said they need to be more patient and look for more receivers in the passing game.

Senior Jeff Pittman had the most game action since his Week 2 ankle injury. But he wasn’t a big factor on offense with three catches for 32 yards.

Cheatom was the only back to carry the ball for Riverhead. Bitzer scrambled three times to account for the only other rushing yards.

East Islip made it a two-possession game with a 22-yard field goal with under five minutes to play in the fourth. Riverhead turned it over again on its next possession when Steve Walsh picked off Bitzer.

“We’ve got to get smarter as a football team and stop making mental errors,” Shay said. “Execute drives and be patient. The key to beating us right now is to just be patient and smart and we’ll make a mistake.”

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